Allergic to latex

There are two types of allergic reactions to rubber. One to the latex protein, a natural component of rubber (NRL), and the other to the chemicals used in processing natural rubber products (this is known as a rubber chemical allergy). An allergy to the proteins that are present in natural rubber is known as a latex allergy. Natural rubber latex comes from a liquid in tropical rubber trees and this liquid is then processed to make many rubber products used at home and work.

Latex allergyPeople suffering from a latex allergy will have an immediate reaction which can include any of the following:

  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Hay fever symptoms – runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes
  • Asthma

Although rare, severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis can occur, and this can be life threatening.

Identification of a latex allergy can either be made from your clinical history plus either a positive latex-specific IgE blood test (RAST test) or a skin prick test/glove challenge test (SPT).

Many everyday products contain latex. However, only a small number contain enough allergens to be an immediate risk to the majority of people with latex allergy. Natural rubber can be found in 2 forms of product:

  • Dipped or stretchy NRL products (e.g. gloves, balloons, condoms, rubber bands)
  • Dry rubber products (e.g. tyres, tubing)

The majority of people having a latex allergy are likely to react to those products in the dipped or stretchy category rather than those in the dry rubber products category. This is because the thin, stretchy latex rubber is high in this rubber protein (NRL).

In addition NRL allergens can attach themselves to cornstarch used in powdered gloves. The particles that stick to the cornstarch can then fly into the air when the gloves are taken off. In places where gloves are being put on and removed frequently, the air may contain many latex particles, enabling the allergens to be inhaled. NRL allergic individuals may therefore experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, by being in a room where these gloves are used even if they are not in direct contact with the gloves.

Anyone can develop a latex allergy, although some people are more likely to than others. These generally tend to be:

  • healthcare workers
  • rubber industry workers
  • individuals who have had many operations (especially in childhood)
  • people who have spina bifida
  • individuals who have a history of certain food allergies e.g. banana, avocado, kiwi, chestnut

Some of the products that may contain the NRL protein and need to be avoided are:

  • Balloons
  • Dishwashing gloves
  • Waistbands on clothing
  • Pacifiers and baby-bottle nipples
  • Rubber bands
  • Swimming caps and goggles
  • Erasers
  • Condoms
  • Medical gloves
  • Blood pressure cuffs
  • Urinary catheters
  • Tourniquets
  • Dental dams
  • Rubber aprons

Alternative latex free versions can be found for many of these products.

If you do have a latex allergy it is exceedingly important to inform schools, employers and healthcare providers (both medical and dental) of your NRL allergy. It is also beneficial to wear some form of allergy aware jewelry or badge stating that you suffer from a natural rubber latex allergy.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 6 December 2012

Next review: 14 August 2014